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Muda Corporation: Improving Your Suggestions System

by Marius Gil
September 7, 2016

Muda Corporation: Improving Your Suggestions System

by Marius Gil
September 7, 2016 | Comments (12)

In my 10 years as a lean consultant, I've found that the most successful lean managers are often the ones who want to implement a suggestions system early in their lean journey. They know that lean culture encourages the participation of all employees and, in a certain way, they want to give voice to their collaborators right from the beginning.

Unfortunately, many organizations take this step without first making the necessary changes that affect their companies' decision-making processes. For this reason, they often end up raising tensions among employees that result in some of the situations shown in the following illustration.

 

In order to redress how the system is being implemented, it is necessary to modify certain attitudes as well as some organizational structures. It is a time-consuming cultural transformation that every company should address along the lean journey. One article that best reflects this need for change and the benefits of decentralization in decision-making is J.P. Womack’s Fewer Heroes, More Farmers, published 05/12/06, in which the author claimed the need to reduce heroic behaviors in favor of a more down-to-earth "farmers' approach."

I remember a particular case working at an organization where the decisions and actions were traditionally taken by the top managers at each of the factories.

After some time running a sort of suggestions system, the lean coordinators realized that absolutely all of the suggestions issued would end up, with no exception, on the table of the plant manager for approval. This meant an extension of the time needed for approving the suggestions. As a consequence, most of the employees took that slow response as a lack of response to their proposals. So, they decided to stop providing new suggestions. After a while, some KPIs indicated that the number of suggestions was sinking. Under the effect of this unexpected situation, top management reacted in an astonishing way: in order to reverse the negative trend, they proposed to pay an economic incentive for every suggestion issued. Naturally, this didn't improve anything.

As soon as management becomes aware that implementing a good suggestion system means more than placing a set of mailboxes at some corners of the plant, some organizations (not all) are able to redress their approach to it. They delegate the issuance, the approval and the implementation of the suggestions to the employees who submitted them, leaving them with the real autonomy.

This case is a good example of the need to redress the implementation of a suggestion system by delegating the issuance, approval and implementation to the staff of each of the processes, thus empowering the real actors of the program. I experienced many other situations like this during my lean career, in which a failure to change behaviors first derailed a well-intentioned suggestions system. I've now compiled the most memorable unchanged behaviors in this illustration for your reference. Keep an eye out for them and intervene as soon as you see them – it could keep your suggestions system from failing.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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12 Comments | Post a Comment
kevin kobett September 07, 2016

That's a lot of effort to see if anyone submitted a suggestion. Get out your keys, unlock the padlock, remove the padlock and open the lid.

Once I put a piece of paper in the suggestion. I could see it thru the slot. It was 2 to 3 weeks before it was removed.

Suggestion boxes should be clear for prompt action on suggestions.



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Marius Gil September 07, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Fully agree with your statement. Also glad to hear that you too came across this kind of experiences as depicted in my illustration.

It is quite astonishing that some companies, no matter their will to implement the best possible system, too often they introduce a number of elements that affects the flow in a highly negative way.



Reply »

Mark Graban September 14, 2016

As somebody told me once at a hospital, their suggestion box was "where good ideas go to die."



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Marius Gil September 15, 2016

Nice analogy to express how a closed box might interrupt the flow.



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lemi ali gungordu September 10, 2016

hi,

congratulations for your lean post today.

i'm board member of lean institute turkey.

would you let me translate your ''muda corporation'' into turkish and spread it among turkish lean community.

regards.

lemi



Reply »

Marius Gil September 12, 2016

Hi Lemi,

Very much pleased for your interest in translating this Muda Corporation illustration in order to spread it through the turkish lean community.

Please let me know if you need the drawing set without text and I will send it over to you.

Marius 



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Soeren Olsen September 12, 2016

hi,

may I recommend this book by Kevin C. Desouza: "Intrapreneurship, managing ideas within your organization" where he amongst other issues describes and points out the importance of Roles in the process as well as writes about the same issues as you raise in this post



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Peter J. Liepmann September 12, 2016

The suggestion box is set up wrong.  You need a paper shredder attached to the bottom.



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Marius Gil September 15, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Good suggestion! It would fit very well in the spirit of Muda Corporation. Even, it could  be a canditadate to a prize for improving the flow.



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Carl Watt September 12, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this comment

The biggest culture change for most managers is that you don't need a box for anonymous suggestions because your people should not be afraid of reaction to suggestions.  In most companies it takes a lot of management effort to recognize the first people making the public suggestions before the flow starts. 

Next you need suggestion forms with an escalation path from the person handling it himself up to something that only the manager can handle.



Reply »

kevin kobett September 16, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this reply

The suggestion box is the key that changes culture. First thing we will do is collect a list of problems from all employees. This is an easy task. Ask employees, "What irritates you?" Every problem irritates someone. Employees have a choice; put the problem in the suggestion box or give it to your supervisor.

Some of these problems are posted above the suggestion box. Again, suggestions can be placed in the suggestion box or shared with the boss. 

This experiment will shed light on how to proceed. If all the problems and suggestions are placed in the suggestion box, you have a problem. If suggestions are given to supervisors, trust exist. 

Most likely, employees trust some bosses and not others. This is good. You just identified your change agents, employees who make good suggestions and leaders who listen to them.

Marius. Good job keeping this post going.



Reply »

Marius Gil September 20, 2016

Thanks for your comments, kevin. I like your approach on how to start up the suggestion system. 

When the system reaches a reasonable cruising speed though, I would recommend to design a simple application form to be filled right from the issuance of any particular suggestion and all the way through until the implementation of it (describing the current state, nature of the proposal, validation and final learnings after its implementation). On my opinion this helps to shorten lead times.



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